On April 3, 2024

Mid-session turning points

 

The Legislature has now said “thank you and farewell” to our second set of Pages, which means we are more than halfway through our 2024 Session.  If you know a young person who will be in the 8th grade next year and is interested in how Vermont works, please suggest they consider serving as a Page at the State House for the 2025 session. Pages serve the Legislature for six weeks, functioning as a living internet, enabling communications, deliveries, and helping the Sergeant at Arms with whatever special project she might have for them. They need to be self-directed, able to stay abreast of their schoolwork during the four days a week they are at the State House, and interested in learning more about the history and governance of Vermont.

Another indicator that the session is moving into its second half is that “cross over” is almost complete. Most of the Senate bills we’ve been working on have made it to the House for their consideration — and the Senate now has most of the House bills.

Having reached the mid-point in the session, I am proud that the Senate has passed a number of bills that address some of our top priorities: flood recovery, climate change mitigation and housing. We’ve passed measures which enabled tax relief for flood impacted towns and sent more financial support to help those towns recover. And we’ve sent the House bills that address mitigating future flooding disasters by creating watershed solutions to increase public safety and reduce future damage (S.213), a “making Big Oil pay” bill designed to ensure that the companies that profited from the pollution of our state help pay to mitigate the damage to our environment (S.259) and legislation improving government’s response to future natural disasters (S.310).  And, our big housing bill, Be Home (S.311), will be incorporated into the Act 250 update, which the House has sent us.

In the second half of the session the Legislature faces one of our toughest tasks — figuring out what to do about this year’s education property tax increases. As a result of several key cost drivers: overall inflation, a 16.4% increase in teacher health care, the debt service on new capital projects or renovations, and the end of one-time federal Covid funds, school budgets rose at an alarming rate. As a result, about a third of school budgets were rejected, and too many of our towns are facing double digit property tax increases. We are wrestling with how to contain costs going forward and reduce the tax increase for this year.

For the many of you who’ve been in touch with concerns about the impact these tax increases will have on your finances and our communities — thank you. It is frustrating to not yet have a clear solution but our committees of jurisdiction, working with our Joint Fiscal Office, the tax department, the Agency of Education, and a few wise consultants, are exploring a number of possibilities. It is probable that we’ll find a short-term solution for this year and continue to work on solving our longer term school funding challenges.   

Sen. Alison Clarkson appreciate hearing from you. She can be reached by email:  aclarkson@leg.state.vt.us or by phone at the State House (Tues-Fri) 802-828-2228 or at home (Sat-Mon) 802- 457-4627.

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